Most Useless Inventions

For no particular reason I’ve been thinking about gadgets lately. Those inventions that claim to “make life easier.” If a gadget could truly make the trials and tribulations of life easier, then I’d be all for it. But I’ve never seen a gadget that could mend a broken heart, or deal with the horrible attitude of a surly employee on a Monday morning. If only there was a gadget that would pay my mortgage, that would make my life easier.

Here are five examples of inventions that I could live without:

1. Electric can opener: I’ve been using the little stamped sheet metal Army model P-38 manual can opener for years. The type every GI opened his C-rats with during WWII. Troops called it the “John Wayne Can Opener,” because the actor was filmed doing a demonstration on its use during the war. Not to be confused with John Wayne Toilet Paper found in most public toilets (which is rough and tough and takes no shit).

I can almost always open a can with the P-38 quicker than I can untangle the cord for the electric can opener, shove all the other junk out of the way on the counter, hook up the can and hit the power button. Besides, if the power goes out, the electric can opener becomes a large paperweight. Staring at an unopened can of Spaghetti-O’s in the dark is not how I want to ride out the Zombie Apocalypse.

Another bonus is the stealthy silence of the John Wayne, which is useful during those times I want to secretly make a tuna sandwich without the cat charging in at full speed when she hears the electric can opener fire up.

2. Gas powered leaf blower: What better use for dead dinosaur juice than powering a super-sized hair dryer that blows leaves from our yard into our neighbor’s yard while creating 150 decibels of ear-splitting racket at the same time? And why do the leaves always seem to accumulate beneath my office window when I’m on a conference call?

The leaf blower is a solution without a problem. It doesn’t actually DO anything, but at least it makes a lot of noise and pollution while not doing it. A rake still works just as well as ever and is far less annoying. Have you ever been awakened at 6 am on a Sunday morning by a neighbor who was raking too loudly? Have you ever had an asthma attack triggered by the fumes produced by your rake?

Besides, with the American obesity epidemic in full swing, a little vigorous raking would be a good way to shed a few extra Spaghetti-O pounds, which may also help you outrun the zombies. Or if you can’t outrun them, a rake could be a useful weapon. But a leaf blower? Not unless you want to destroy their eardrums and gag them with fumes.

3. Air freshener: This is an invention that would be great if it actually worked. But most air fresheners don’t actually do anything to freshen the air; they just release a chemical odor that is ostensibly less obnoxious than the one you’re trying to mask. Thanks to the magicians at Glade, the toilets at work now smell like cinnamon-flavored shit rather than just plain old shit. Mmm, this old sofa now smells of a tropical Hawaiian breeze and cat piss. Lovely.

4. Electric pencil sharpener: The most obvious use of the electric pencil sharpener is to hone those #2 sticks into needle-sharp spear tips and then jab each other with them. Yes, elementary school was a little like Lord of the Flies, only with pencils instead of spears. Sucks to your ass-mar, Piggy. But in all seriousness, what is the purpose of this device? Was turning that little crank so difficult that we needed to harness the power of electrons?

Also, what about the whole power grid collapse aspect during the Zombie Apocalypse? We will need very sharp pencils when the shit hits the fan, and foraging for gasoline to power a generator to power your electric pencil sharpener just doesn’t really make much sense.

5. E-book reader: I know this is a controversial choice, because e-books have legions of loyal devotees. But they’re just not for me. I tried one. Sure, it was convenient to be able to carry several hundred books around on one small device (not that I ever tried to read several hundred books simultaneously, but I digress). I just couldn’t warm up to it. Literally. It was cold metal in my hands with harsh edges, not the warm comfort of a well-worn and much-loved book.

One of my most treasured possessions is a copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire that a friend gave me over 20 years ago just before I left for the Peace Corps. She wrote an inscription on the inside cover, wishing me well on my adventures. The book is falling apart, the pages have turned yellow, and it still bears flecks of blue paint spatter from when I painted the walls of my house in Kenya. But it’s still a book, a physical thing that I can hold in my hands and instantly reminisce about the person who gave it to me, the places it’s been, and the memories it invokes. I cherish it in a way that I could never cherish a digital rendition of a book on an e-reader.

Besides, I’ve never had a book’s batteries die in the middle of a chapter. And not once has a flight attendant told me to turn off my book in preparation for landing.

2 Replies to “Most Useless Inventions”

  1. You had me at electric can opener and you lost me at E-book reader. The last is definitely a controversy to me… I love books, I still shop for books (second hand) and give books as gifts, nothing will ever replace them. That being said, when you’re stuck on a boat for weeks at a time, or backpacking with just a carry-on, my Kindle has it’s uses! :/ Still torn.

    Great blog and writing 🙂


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